I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of workplace Learning and Development* (L&D) or, more specifically, about the evolution of the workplace and the changing role of L&D in it. I’m not alone, of course. Jon Husband (wirearchy.com), Harold Jarche (jarche.com), and Jane Hart (c4lpt.co.uk/blog), along with several others, write often about how the globally connected workplace is changing the nature of both work and learning.
While I agree enthusiastically with their perspectives on how the role of L&D must change, I personally haven’t seen or heard of sweeping changes, only small changes within a group of my like-minded peers. Jay Cross recently summarized presentations by Peter Henschel from 1999, calling for changes in L&D and how most learning is social and largely informal. Jay notes in The principles of learning that Henschel’s lessons are still valid today. They are, and I don’t think they’re well implemented in many places. It seems nothing much has changed.
Meanwhile, corporate executives and others outside the L&D role are increasingly aware that alternatives to lecture-based instruction abound, and they expect changes. Some point to TED and Khan Academy content as exemplars of the future of workplace learning, including the ability to learn at convenient times and places or the effectiveness of “flipped” training where content is consumed outside a classroom and face-to-face sessions are used to discuss it and application within the organization. They seem to envision large libraries of learning products with proprietary content, very specific to an organization’s mission and current state-of-the-art thinking, which is likely neither scalable nor sustainable in all but the largest organizations. MOOCs and other loosely structured learning activities, with or without expected outcomes, have also captured the attention of execs, who then question their quality and value. And virtually all of them envision these as forms of formal learning, taking place behind the corporate firewall. Informal learning is increasingly acknowledged as important, but viewed as the responsibility of individuals and their managers, not a role for L&D. Change and innovation are expected, but so is supporting the status quo.
L&D professionals are mostly still seen as learning gatekeepers, as Jane Hart writes. Changes are expected, bringing responsiveness and agility to the “learning” function, but policies and expectations remain in place to discourage those same changes. As a result, formal learning in most workplaces looks about same as it has for the last decade, comprised of instructor-led classes (both in face-to-face and distance learning scenarios) and elearning courses. Informal learning remains something outside the L&D purview. L&D professionals continue to do the same job, more or less, responding to most knowledge or performance needs with “learning” solutions.
A lot of smart people have been calling for changes in the role of L&D for years. Their arguments are logical, sound, and just make sense. So why haven’t things changed more than they have? There’s likely no easy answer, but one factor is certainly that people are creatures of habit, reluctant to change unless it’s required. Despite global connectivity, many workplaces haven’t changed very much. The preponderance of workers, including those in L&D, are doing the same thing they have for years.
I think that’s about to change quickly, and L&D professionals need to be prepared. This change will be fueled not by executive decree, calls for openness and transparency, or by recognition of how global connectivity empowers individuals. It’s going to be driven by a mass migration by organizations around the world to cloud-based infrastructures, which is in turn driven by substantial cost savings, added scalability, and improved responsiveness.
Rather than managing platforms, services, applications, and farms of servers where company secrets are protected by corporate firewalls, organizations will instead contract for most of those services in the cloud. The firewall will continue to protect individual workstations or terminals, but workers will routinely work on cloud-based private platforms outside the organization. Along with that move, organizations will also likely deploy activity streams and other social constructs to stimulate cooperative and collaborative work within the organization.
The fundamental way people work and interact within the organization will change, and that will necessitate changes in the Learning and Development* role. I explore this more in part 2 of this series. In the meantime, I look forward to your thoughts.
*Learning and Development, Learning and Performance, Training and Development, etc.
Thanks for reading!
Cloud image courtesy Wikicommons user Sam Johnson
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